THE BLACK COUNTRY has a long and proud tradition of amateur dramatics, and even today there are a healthy number of such groups regularly treading the boards of our local halls and theatres.
Stourbridge Amateur Operatic Society, formed in 1909, is still going today after more than a century of performances, and we heartily thank Cliff Williams of Rowley Regis for bringing to Bugle House a selection of Souvenir Programmes printed during the thirties and forties for some of their annual productions. Cliff tells us that the programmes came from the Raydyot works on Waterfall Lane, Cradley Heath. Someone connected with the company, he believes, had family ties to the society.
Here we peruse a programme from 1934, a rather lavish booklet produced for the society's 24th production, The Three Musketeers, which ran for seven nights in autumn of that year.
While entertainment was the society's main reason for being, raising money for good causes came a very close second, and the programme notes go into great detail about the healthy amounts raised, and who stood to benefit ...
"The enterprising policy of the Society is well evidenced by the present production and those of recent years such as The Vagabond King and The Desert Song. This year the attention of patrons is drawn to the innovation the Society is making in the substitution of curtains, block scenes and conventional suggestion for the old fashioned and familiar painted 'perspective' scenery. The advantages in this lie in the greater scope for stage design and in the ability to increase the number of scenes.
Guineas "That to the splendid support of the public last year the Society was able to disburse 250 guineas as follows: "Corbett Hospital — 75 guineas; Stourbridge Dispensary — 50; Stourbridge Nursing Association — 10; Stourbridge After Care Committee —15; Stourbridge Infant Welfare — 15; Amblecote Infant Welfare — 15; Blind Institution (Stourbridge) 15."
The list continues from there, with smaller amounts going to the Mayor's Distress Fund, St John's Ambulance of both Stourbridge and Lye; Lye's Motor Ambulance; Lye and Wollescote Nursing Association; Dudley's Guest Hospital; Netherton Nursing Association and the Poor Children's Christmas Treat.
The total raised in a year was 250 guineas. The programme notes continue: "This brings the aggregate sum distributed by the Society to date to £1,204 1s 2d. In bringing about this result the support afforded by the President, Vice Presidents and the Advertisers in the Souvenir Programme is very gratefully acknowledged.
"The appreciative thanks of the Society is also tendered to all those who assist during the week of this production.
Space does not permit mention of names but it is felt that an exception should be made in the case of Mr Harry Moseley of Messrs Murdoch, Murdoch and Co for the booking offices facilities, the loan of piano and his ever ready help in other ways.
"A matter of interest to the Society and public alike is that Mr Stanley Guise and Mr James Mainwaring are collaborating in the writing of a Musical Drama which it is hoped will be ready for production next year. It is entitled 'The Blue Sampan' and its scenes are laid in China.
Many will remember these gentlemen wrote respectively the libretto and music for the recent Midlands Pageant.
"These notes cannot be concluded without reference to the fact the Mr Chas Roberts, the Chairman of Committee and Hon Treasurer, completes this year his twentyfifth year of active service to the Society, and the Society is unanimous and wholehearted in its desire to place on record its appreciation of this quarter of a century's work on its behalf."
There are also some professional portraits of the players themselves, and it must be said that there's very little of the Amateur about the way they looked. Ashley Pegg cut a suitably dashing figure as D'Artagnan, with Chris Gittins quite imposing as Cardinal Richelieu. The Three Musketeers themselves were played by Horace Greaves (Athos); Archie Bateman (Porthos) and Charles Hackett (Aramis).
Gladys Moyle and Jack Downing paired up as Constance and Planchet; and, looking like something from a renaissance painting, were the ballet dancers; Misses I Southall, G Barnes, G Cleverly, H Cleverly, A Parkes, J Pratt, M Phillips,and T Bateman.
The solo dancer was Mrs B Moseley.